Snow days? Ha.
The Pittsburgh Pirates? Brrr.
OK, so spring training isn't an antidote for everything. With 1-11 pitcher Ross Ohlendorf stomping Pittsburgh in his arbitration hearing this week, the hapless Pirates appear to be right on schedule.
As for the rest of us, pass the Grapefruit and smell the Cactus. Pitchers and catchers for 11 clubs will be on the field Monday and all 30 clubs will be going by Thursday. Which means, by the end of next week, you'll feel like wearing flip flops even if you're living in Buffalo.
Welcome back to spring training, where you can find the ice in your drinks, not on your driveway. Where you can find the salt on your margarita glass, not on your road. Where you can find everything you need to know, right here, right now. Spring primer? Let's rock ... and after this miserable winter, let's pack. ...
Five key spring storylines
Before we step onto the field. ...
1. Albert Pujols' contract negotiations: If you have to ask the price, you can't afford him. St. Louis is trying to bridge the gap, but the Brinks truck currently is stuck in a snowdrift somewhere outside of Joplin. Pujols' camp says he needs a deal before he arrives in camp Feb. 16. The Cardinals train in Jupiter. Really, isn't that the perfect planet for all of this to play out on?
2. Forever Young in Texas ... or not: At press time, the backbone of the Texas clubhouse was still a Ranger. Of course, this is the Internet, so there technically is no press time. Young could be dealt in the next two minutes. Two minutes! Fortunately for us, if he is, we'll immediately update. Prediction here remains, eventually, that update will say Young is headed to Colorado. The Rockies still make the most sense, and Young is the piece that could make them NL West favorites. Anybody for a Young/Troy Tulowitzki double play combo?
3. Mets ownership, Bernie Madoff and Ponzi schemes: Fred Wilpon is looking to sell 20 to 25 percent of the Mets in what is setting up to be an epic battle for him to retain his reputation and his ballclub. From whatever angle, he's not looking good while a lawsuit alleges that he profited from Madoff's sins. Truth be told, anybody who is paying that kind of bread to Carlos Beltran and Oliver Perez doesn't have a club about investing.
4. Dodgers ownership and leverage schemes: The Frank and Jamie McCourt battle for ownership of the Dodgers enters its second full season. Can you blame Joe Torre for sprinting toward the exit?
5. Budding Yankees-Rangers rivalry: First their playoff meeting last October. Then Cliff Lee's wife complained about abusive behavior she experienced in Yankee Stadium. Then Rangers owner Chuck Greenberg suggested this winter that the Rangers' third visit to Lee's home during the free-agent process was part of what led the pitcher to sign with the Phillies instead of the Yankees. Which caused Yankees president Randy Levine to go ballistic, calling Greenberg "delusional" and adding, "If he really wants to impress us then he can get the Rangers off of welfare and show how they can be revenue-sharing payers, rather than recipients, three years in a row, without financing from major-league baseball." Which brings to mind two questions: 1. Remember the days when the Red Sox were the ones who pushed Yankee buttons? 2. The Rangers are trying to impress the Yankees?
Five best spring storylines
Because the game is still played on the field and not in courtrooms and agents' offices. Right?
1. Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay together in Philly: Best rotation since Atlanta's Greg Maddux, John Smoltz and Tom Glavine group? Since Baltimore's Jim Palmer, Dave McNally, Mike Cuellar and Pat Dobson? Others? Nominations are open.
2. Adrian Gonzalez prepping for the Green Monster: He's under doctors' orders not to swing for the first couple weeks of camp while his surgically repaired shoulder heals. But once he's turned loose, once Gonzalez meets the Monster, pepper will be back in style. Carl Crawford adds speed, Kevin Youkilis' transition to third base gives us something to watch, and will the real Josh Beckett stand up?
3. Milwaukee swings for the fences: Everyone knows Prince Fielder will be gone as soon as next winter's free-agent curtain rises. So the Brewers ... opt to re-load now rather than dealing Fielder early? Big-time kudos here. With new pitching additions Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum joining Yovani Gallardo, the Brew Crew can do. And if they don't, well, they can always trade Fielder in July. ...
4. The AL Central in the starters' blocks: The Tigers have added slugger Victor Martinez and set-up man Joaquin Benoit. The White Sox signed slugger Adam Dunn and poached reliever Jesse Crain from the Twins. Minnesota re-signed DH Jim Thome and starter Carl Pavano and plans on healthy seasons from closer Joe Nathan and first baseman Justin Morneau. This is going to be one fun summer run.
5. Yankees Krispy Kreme rotation: Because there's a big hole in the center. How can a $200 million payroll bring Ivan Nova into focus? And new pitching coach Larry Rothschild thought there was pressure with the Cubs. Where have you gone Andy Pettitte, a nation turns its lonely eyes to you, whoo hoo hoo.
Five juiciest spring storylines
Made-for-the-tabloids division. ...
1. White Sox may need Lucy, "psychiatrist is in" sign: They're built to win, especially if Jake Peavy regains his health and joins Mark Buehrle and Jon Danks in the rotation. What might be just as entertaining is watching to see whether owner Jerry Reinsdorf will need to stage another intervention with Chicago's craziest couple, manager Ozzie Guillen and general manager Kenny Williams.
2. While Lucy is in Chicago. ... : In Matt Garza, Carlos Zambrano and Carlos Silva, the Cubs will have the most excitable, temperamental, emotional and, potentially loco rotation in the game. They could be really good ... or a real mess.
3. Alex Rodriguez and Cameron Diaz: Orville Redenbacher, or JiffyPop?
4. The Matt Kemp-Rihanna breakup: It's true, according to US Weekly. Tough news for Kemp. Maybe good news for the Dodgers. With his talent, think how good Kemp can be with no distractions.
5. Milton Bradley on trial: Tough road for the Mariners when their biggest chance of making news is March 9, when their troubled outfielder is scheduled for a court date for making criminal threats against his wife.
Five spring essentials:
Because accessories are a must. ...
1. Convertible: Doesn't always work because, well, they're expensive! And despite the wild success of Two and a Half Men, CBS does not allow an unrestricted travel budget. But sometimes if you ask real nice at the rental car counter. ...
2. iPod: And a converter to plug into the car, especially over all those miles in Florida.
3. Shades: Maui Jims or Ray-Bans, both work.
4. Sunblock: Ow, probably should have -- man that sunburn stings -- put this first.
5. Flip Flops: As the song about tourists covered in oil says, "Blew out my flip flop, stepped on a pop top" ... who here remembers pop tops?
Five Twitter accounts to follow:
Do you enjoy hearing directly from the managers or players? That breakfast today was Pop-Tarts? That paintball is scheduled for later this afternoon? Well, then. ...
1. Ozzie Guillen, White Sox: @OzzieGuillen. The most entertainment for your Twitter dollar (sample tweets from the other night: "Why the pizza take so friking long?" Followed by: "Nice pizza for my diet yess ready for spring training.").
2. Brian Wilson, Giants: @BrianWilson38. The beard. The personality. Enough said.
3. Michael Cuddyer, Twins: @MCuddy5. He takes questions from followers, often. And he seeks advice (sample tweet: "Can you use Canons L series lens with a Rebel or is that just too much for it to handle?").
4. Curtis Granderson, Yankees: @cgrand14. Had you been following one of the game's best ambassadors this winter, you could have followed along as he made a trip to New Zealand to help sell baseball there.
5. Brandon Phillips, Reds: @DatDudeBP. Must admit, I have a real difficult time translating half of the tweets, but he is one entertaining second baseman -- with a worrisome hot tub obsession. (Sample tweet: "What mask can be the next scariest killer mask of movies? I think da Burger King dude can be! What do you think?").
Five most improved clubs:
Non-Phillies division, because adding Cliff Lee to Roy Halladay goes without saying (and I already said it above)...
1. Brewers: Milwaukee last year ranked 10th in the majors in average runs per game ... and 27th in average runs allowed per game. You don't have to own a doctorate in mathematics to know that won't work. Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum will elevate the Brewers' pitching to the point where they should stay in the race all year.
2. Red Sox: Not only did they snag Gonzalez and Crawford, but they added depth to their bullpen with Bobby Jenks, Alfredo Aceves, Dennys Reyes and Dan Wheeler. And better yet, the Yankees and Tampa Bay did not improve.
3. White Sox: Adam Dunn might hit 50 homers this year in U.S. Cellular Field ... and then another 20 on the road!
4. Athletics: The young rotation has another year of experience, reliever Brian Fuentes helps strengthen the bullpen and David DeJesus and Josh Willingham will help provide offense. (I'm not much on their other addition, Hideki Matsui).
5. Braves: Don't underestimate the addition of second baseman Dan Uggla. And GM Frank Wren strengthened his bullpen by adding George Sherrill and Scott Linebrink.
Five least improved clubs:
Where, oh where, did the winter go?
1. Astros: The only thing more inactive than Houston this winter was Enron.
2. Yankees: They needed a stud starter. They got set-up man and former Rays closer Rafael Soriano, against GM Brian Cashman's wishes.
3. Rays: How do you overcome the losses of Carl Crawford, Matt Garza, Carlos Pena, Jason Bartlett and a significant chunk of the bullpen? You hand the ball to starting pitchers David Price, James Shields, Wade Davis, Jeff Niemann and Jeremy Hellickson and hope.
4. Mets: No significant additions, unless you count manager Terry Collins and GM Sandy Alderson. Which will be significant. Just not this year.
5. Angels: Will Vernon Wells make people forget the swing and miss on Carl Crawford?
Five best spring stops:
My all-time favorite Florida stop, Le Tub, falls from the list this year because, well, now that the Orioles have fled Fort Lauderdale, it's just not within range of any of the camps. ...
1. Nino's Pizzeria and Italian Restaurant, Fort Myers, Fla. Fresh food, large portions and, I've got to say, sentimental. I've been going here for 17 years now, and owner Graziano and his staff are the best.
2. Harry's Seafood Bar and Grill, Lakeland, Fla.: Mmm, Cajun food. I can vouch for the sausage, red beans and rice, the crawfish etoufee, the jambalaya. ...
3. Italian Grotto, Scottsdale, Ariz.: Right in the heart of Old Town Scottsdale, you can eat great fried calamari, fabulous chicken parmesan and, when you're done, slide on over to the bar. Odds are, you'll see scouts, broadcasters and various other baseball folks in here every night of the week.
4. Frenchy's, Clearwater Beach, Fla. Grouper sandwiches. The beach. I can hear the sea gulls already.
5. Los Olivos Mexican Patio, Scottsdale, Ariz.: Outstanding Mexican food and fabulous pitchers of margaritas. Plus, you never know who you'll run into -- like, say, actor Timothy Busfield (thirtysomething, The West Wing), as we did a couple of springs ago.
5A. Pink Pony Steakhouse, Scottsdale, Ariz.: An optimistic nod here to the Pony. Having been shuttered a couple of years ago, one of the most historic spots in the Cactus League is opening again this month under new ownership. Not sure if the old memorabilia will be there -- signed batting helmets from Reggie Jackson and Tony Gwynn, great old photos of Dizzy Dean, Stan Musial, Carl Yastrzemski and many others -- but I'm trusting lots of current baseball folks will re-discover it.
Five intriguing spring storylines:
The waiting is the hardest part. ...
1. The fuel gauge on San Francisco's pitching: Nobody has a better rotation than the Giants. But how will that extra month of high-stress pitching last year affect Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez and Madison Bumgarner?
2. Derek Jeter after the new contract signing: At 36 and coming off one of his worst seasons, how much does Mr. Yankee have left?
3. Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez in Tampa Bay: Really, now. If this were 2004, the Rays would be onto something. Now, they're like an old married couple, finishing each other's sentences (Damon: Even though I'm 37, I can play 162 games. Manny: "Let's do this: You play 100, and I'll play 62.").
4. Sorting out Cincinnati's rotation: Following last year's terrific run, the Reds look for sustained success. We know Bronson Arroyo, Johnny Cueto and Edinson Volquez likely will fill the top three rotation spots. Which leaves last year's stud rookie, Mike Leake, where? Battling Homer Bailey, Travis Wood and, perhaps, even Matt Maloney and Sam LeCure for the Nos. 4 of 5 rotation slot. As they say, great problem to have for manager Dusty Baker and pitching coach Bryan Price.
5. Blue Jays on the wing: Nobody would have predicted 85-77 in the rugged AL East after the Jays traded Roy Halladay in 2010. Stocked with good young pitching like Ricky Romero, Brett Cecil and Brandon Morrow, Jesse Litsch and Jo-Jo Reyes, the impressive Toronto makeover continues. All that, and we haven't even heard from Kyle Drabek yet.
Five rookie managers to watch:
Aside from Tony La Russa, the lions of summer are gone. Farewell Bobby Cox, Lou Piniella, Cito Gaston, Joe Torre ... and say hello to Arizona's Kirk Gibson, and the following quintet:
1. Mike Quade, Cubs: The Cubs went 24-13 after Quade took over last year. Is there more where that came from?
2. Don Mattingly, Dodgers: Tuned up in Arizona Fall League in October and November. Now knows must remove starting pitcher on second visit to the mound in an inning.
3. Ron Roenicke, Brewers: Don't even ask Davey Lopes what kind of Brewers club he inherited when he got his first managing gig.
4. Fredi Gonzalez, Braves: If Chipper Jones is healthy, Fredi will be more than ready. Heck, he's ready even if Chipper isn't.
5. John Farrell, Blue Jays: One of GM Alex Anthopoulos' series of good moves: When rebuilding around a talented young rotation, hire a manager who is a pitching expert.
Five best spring venues
The rankings remain unchanged from last year. But with the Diamondbacks and Rockies moving into a spiffy new facility in Scottsdale this spring, we'll see what next year brings:
1. Scottsdale Stadium, Giants: Everything you want in spring training is here: Cool, intimate stadium that soaks up the sun as well as anywhere. Great neightorhood. The fabulous restaurants and bars of Old Scottsdale are within walking distance. And the Giants are defending champions!
2. Joker Marchant Stadium, Tigers: Now on deck: The Tigers' 75th consecutive spring in Lakeland. So much history here. This is the place Al Kaline played. This is the place where a rookie named Mark "The Bird" Fidrych, upon learning he made the big club in spring camp 1976, took his girlfriend out to the mound later that night for ... uh, well, you know. And up the road is the old, abandoned Holiday Inn that was serving as the club hotel when the alligator once crawled into the pool.
3. Brighthouse Field, Phillies: Modern, intimate and Frenchy's as a concession stand.
4. Tempe Diablo Stadium, Angels: Smack dab at the foot of Mt. Diablo. One of the prettiest parks around.
5. HoHoKam Park, Cubs: But alas, it won't be the same without the late Ron Santo this year.
Five things I'm thinking
1. The Dodgers will be better than last year simply because their rotation is in a better place with Ted Lilly and Jon Garland joining Chad Billingsley and Clayton Kershaw. Last year, Vicente Padilla started on opening day and journeyman knuckleballer Charlie Haeger started during the season's first week. Ouch.
2. The Padres won't be as bad as people think. True, losing Adrian Gonzalez is huge. But credit GM Jed Hoyer with some good moves to make San Diego stronger up the middle: Second baseman Orlando Hudson, shortstop Jason Bartlett and center fielder Cameron Maybin make them interesting. Don't expect 90 wins again, but this is not a total rebuild.
3. I really like the Cubs' one-year gamble with first baseman Carlos Pena. Yes, that .196 batting average from last year was ugly. But he still had 28 homers and 84 RBI. Wrigley Field will be beneficial to him. So will hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo. And I agree with Cubs' GM Jim Hendry: If they can even get Pena's batting average up to .250, that means he's hitting the ball more, which means even more balls should go over the fence.
4. While everyone is talking about the gaps in the Yankees' rotation -- legitimate topic -- I'm anxious to see how their catching plays out. Jorge Posada has been told he will spend most of the season as a DH, leaving Russell Martin -- the former Dodger -- the favorite to win the job with Francisco Cervelli and rookie Jesus Montero in the picture as well. Martin is coming back from hip surgery, but from what I've seen of him the past two seasons even before the injury, I think his best days are far behind him. While there are plenty of bodies, I'm not sure the Yankees will get enough contributions behind the plate from their current crew.
5. I see the Orioles primed for a bounce-back year after a bitterly disappointing start to 2010 caused the firing of Dave Trembley. Their young pitching will continue to improve, the additions of Mark Reynolds, Derrek Lee, J.J. Hardy and Vladimir Guerrero will help buy time until the Brian Matusz's and Matt Wieters' are full grown and Buck Showalter is a proven manager.